Belfast Telegraph

Tailoring Child Maintenance reforms for Northern Ireland: McCausland

Stormont Executive press release - Department for Social Development

Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland has announced further child maintenance reforms affecting Northern Ireland from Spring next year.

The reforms, also being implemented in Great Britain, are aimed at encouraging separated parents to work together to support their children and at providing a more efficient service for those unable or unwilling to reach agreement.

Speaking about the changes, Minister McCausland said: “It is very important that parents are able to access the right support to enable them to work together in the interests of their children. Parents are best placed to make maintenance agreements for their families and they should not rely solely on the state to intervene.

“However, it is important that when it is needed, parents are supported in setting up an arrangement which best meets the needs of their children. In Northern Ireland, 21,975 children benefit every month from the work of the statutory Child Maintenance Service.”

The Minister continued: “I am pleased to confirm that a £20 application fee will not apply here. This will ensure that the child maintenance statutory service remains accessible to those who need it. I understand the breakdown of relationships can be a difficult time, but maintenance arrangements agreed by both parents often lead to better outcomes for their children.

“In cases where the Child Maintenance Service is requested to collect and pay maintenance, the introduction of collection fees is a way of encouraging separated families to consider making their own arrangements from the outset.

“However, the level of fees I have set will minimise the impact on the amount of money flowing to children, while providing an incentive to ensure parents seriously consider their responsibilities and the options available to them before opting into the Child Maintenance Collect and Pay service.”

The fees being introduced are:

· A 4% collection fee for parents with care (this is a reduction from the original proposed 7% charge for the parent with care).
· A 20% collection fee for non-resident parents will be payable.
· The introduction of additional charges for enforcement.

In concluding, the Minister said: “I must emphasise that there is no fee to pay if parents make their own family based arrangements or use the Child Maintenance Direct Pay Service.”

These changes are likely to be introduced in Spring next year when the new scheme has been fully phased in and is working well.

Between now and 2017, all child maintenance cases in Northern Ireland will be transferred to the new system and parents invited to consider their options including whether or not to establish their own family based arrangements, enter into a Direct Pay scheme or apply for the collect and pay service.

Notes to editors:

1. Statutory arrangements are in place to ensure that the GB and NI Child Maintenance Schemes operate as a single system.

2. The Child Maintenance Service NI provides help and support to separated families and also administers statutory child maintenance services. As part of the ongoing reforms, the new ‘2012 Child Maintenance’ system went live on 10 December 2012 and is being implemented on a phased basis.

3. Agreements made by non-resident parents via the new scheme which are not complied with will have additional enforcement fees applied. These are:

· Deduction from earnings order £50.
· Regular deduction order £50.
· Lump sum deduction order £200.
·Liability order £300.

4. The Department for Work and Pensions published a consultation document “Supporting Separated families; securing children’s futures” which sought views on proposals for draft Fees Regulations and Case Closure Regulations. The consultation ran from 19 July to 26 October 2012. The Department for Social Development issued this document in Northern Ireland. The official response will be published later in the year.

5. Help and support is available for separated parents through Child Maintenance Choices, a free telephone advice service, on 0800 028 7439. The service also signposts other sources of support and assistance available to separating and separated families.

6. There are three options available for separated parents:

· A family based arrangement is when parents work together to sort out and agree child maintenance between themselves without any involvement from Child Maintenance Services.

· Direct Pay is where the Child Maintenance Service calculates the amount payable and the parents agree between themselves how and when payments are made.

· Collect and Pay is where the Child Maintenance Service calculates the amount payable and collects this amount from the non-resident parent and pays it to the parent with care. This option will attract collection fees.

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